Headshot of CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure
CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure

Declaring once again that “Vaccine requirements work,” Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure on Tuesday urged healthcare facility administrators to increase efforts to get workers vaccinated against COVID-19.

“We have seen that health care systems that implement vaccine requirements are not experiencing dramatic staff losses,” Brooks-LaSure wrote. “Vaccinated staff are instead more available to work since they are less likely to get sick.”

She said that providers “across the nation” have relayed “effective employee engagement strategies” that include 1-on-1 informational interviews and open panel discussions with clinicians to combat misinformation.

“It is paramount to the health and safety of America’s patients for health care facility workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19,” the CMS leader wrote. “No matter your current practices, my message to you is simple — now is the time to make sure health care workers are vaccinated. We are moving full speed ahead on implementing our vaccination rule in the District of Columbia, the territories, and all 50 states.”

The first deadline for compliance, among half the states, was last week. That will be followed by a first-shot deadline of Feb. 13 for more states and Feb. 19 for Texas. 

It was not immediately clear what prompted the timing of the CMS leader’s letter, although it was issued one day after two governors requested limited waivers for rural and state-run providers.

She pointed administrators to CMS guidance released on  Dec. 28, Jan. 14 and Jan. 20 for more information. Help is also available from CMS staff, she added.

The Omnibus Health Care Staff Vaccination rule was originally issued Nov. 5, 2021. It has been in effect nationwide since Texas withdrew its challenge shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the CMS worker mandate Jan. 13.

“Vaccine requirements work,” Brooks-LaSure emphasized in her letter.

“Increasing the uptake of COVID-19 vaccines, including the booster shot, is the most important tool you have against staffing shortages,” she added. “As COVID-19’s Omicron variant causes your capacity to be stretched to its limit yet again, the best thing you can do is immediately implement policies and procedures to ensure vaccination of your employees. And you can tell front-line heroes the truth: that vaccination is the best defense against this virus, and their patients need them to be healthy now more than ever.”

Nationwide vaccination rates of residents and staff averaged 87.3% and 81.6%, respectively, according to the latest CMS data (reported through Jan. 16).